Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday
This weekend across Australia the Church celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. The weekend is co-ordinated by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) which is the peak advisory body to the Australian Catholic Bishops on issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics. The council was founded in 1992 and the Secretariat is based in Adelaide.
With the backdrop of the referendum later this year it is important to remember that there are over 130,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics in Australia and it is the youngest and fastest demographic in our Church.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture has been in place for over 60,000 years in Australia and is the oldest surviving culture in the world. However, there was not a singular ‘culture’ shared by the thousands of language groups that covered the Australian continent at the time of settlement. Each group had different environments and differing kinship systems, dreamtime stories and spiritual beliefs. There were, however, constant threads throughout, including the concept of a creator spirit that looks after us, provides for us, and watches over us. Aboriginal and Islanders are a spiritual people, a people who are aware of the spiritual reality of the land and of their own lives.
When early Christian Ministries introduced the Bible to Aboriginal people, the Elders recognised many similarities between the Old Testament stories and traditional stories, laws and the teachings of God (or a creator Spirit). They believed and had faith in their Ancestor Spirit and relied on Him for all their needs. He was their Protector, Provider, Carer and Saviour. His name was honoured.
Traditional culture uses stories to teach about sharing, caring for each other and the land, and providing moral guidance. The stories throughout the bible serve the same purpose – placed God’s teachings into our own cultural context. An excellent example was provided by Pastor George Rosendale:
Then there is the story of the black and white cockatoos. They were brothers. One day the white cockatoo found the black cockatoo sitting under a shady tree looking angry and upset. ‘What is wrong, brother?’ ‘I’m angry with dad because he made me black. Why didn’t he make me like you? I’m going to change myself’. He went to his uncle’s country and asked him for honey and clay. ‘Get as much as you like, there’s plenty there’. He got the clay and honey and went back home. He powdered the clay and rubbed honey all over himself and put the powdered clay on. He looked at himself and said, ‘Now I look like my brother’. His granpa got so angry with him and he called on the monsoon to bring rain. It washed all the clay off him.
Later his brother came and spoke to him. He reminded him about his father’s love for him. He took him to the father and made things right again. Today the black cockatoo is happy. He’s singing when flying and feeding. Jesus our Big Brother has made things right for us. He has broken the barrier that kept us away from our Father and each other. (Eph. 2:11-22; Rom. 5:1-11.)
The story illustrates wonderfully the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics can adapt and see the similarities of the stories contained in the bible with traditional teaching and stories. The underlying lesson is clear, it is the context that provided the feeling of ownership of the teaching. Once these connections are made, the Gospel is perfectly relevant and at the centre of the faith systems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics.
We honour and acknowledge God’s presence in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples who have upheld their rich and diverse cultural traditions for thousands of years.
We give thanks for the deep and enduring legacy of these ancient peoples and their contributions to our continent. So on this 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time let us take a moment to recognise and appreciate the land on which our parish Communities celebrate the Eucharist and the peoples who have nurtured it over time. Together let us continue to cultivate a spirit of unity and respect for all cultures and traditions within our community.
Fr Peter Brannelly
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council have created and collated a number of resources that will assist you to celebrate this very important day on our Liturgical Calendar.